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An overview of the oil and gas industry

Energy (oil and gas): industry sector overview

Engineers in the global oil and gas industry are part of the drive to develop new technologies and maximise efficiency.

The oil and gas sector is the largest energy provider in the world and breaks down into upstream and downstream operations. Upstream operations mainly deal with exploration, development and production. Downstream operations refine the oil and gas ready for delivery, including fuel for heating or electricity generation.

The employers operating in this sector divide into oil companies, oilfield service companies, suppliers and contractors. The major oil companies include BP, Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil, Shell and ENI, and the major oilfield service companies are Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Weatherford.

Trends and developments in the oil and gas industry

As oil and gas reserves become more complex to produce, the technology to do so also advances. Development of new technologies and maximising reservoir production are two key challenges right now.

In drilling, new tools and technologies enable drillers to log or measure while drilling, often several kilometres underground, to help optimise formation evaluation, drilling, and well placement. The result is better-placed wells with high-quality wellbores to improve long-term recovery and well integrity.

What it's like working in the oil and gas industry

Development work is highly technical and innovative and often comes with a more conventional lifestyle, whereas field work is fast-paced and high pressure, often with long hours, but the rewards are excellent.

Engineers always work in a team, whether that's just two engineers on a rig during a night shift or 30 people from different domains working on a project. Teamwork helps to get the best result in the shortest timeframe so it's an integral part of the job.

Development of new technology projects often takes around five years, while operationally the full project cycle can be in excess of 30 years, although this includes smaller projects sometimes lasting weeks or months.

The global nature of the industry provides a huge opportunity for travel. However, development centres and oilfield hubs, such as Aberdeen, Houston and the Middle East, do allow for geographical stability.

Getting a graduate engineering job in the oil and gas industry

Logical thinking and the ability to apply theoretical knowledge practically are essential for working in this industry. So is being open to new cultures and a diverse environment. Having strong communication skills and the ability to build interpersonal relationships quickly are advantages too. It's also important to work well under pressure and solve problems quickly.

Internship programmes are an excellent route into a company and they are available with most of the big clients or service companies. Many employers also run graduate schemes that last for three or four years.

The highlights of a career in oil and gas

  • Developing new technology to solve real challenges.
  • The diverse range of roles available.
  • Opportunities for international travel.

The oil and gas industry seeks graduates from the following disciplines:

  • aerospace/aeronautical
  • automotive
  • chemical
  • civil/structural
  • control
  • electrical
  • electronics
  • environmental
  • instruments
  • manufacturing
  • materials
  • mathematics
  • mechanical
  • physics
  • power systems
  • software
  • telecoms

Always check individual employers' requirements.

Thanks to Peter Worth for his help with this article. Peter is a mechanical team leader at Schlumberger. He has an MEng in mechanical and materials engineering from the University of Bath and has worked in the industry for ten years.